See here for the playthrough report.
At last the three came to the seventh gate of the White City, having ascended all the levels of that city and the warm sun that shone down glowed here on the smooth walls and rooted pillars, and the great arch with keystone carven in the likeness of a crowned and kingly head. Glorfindel dismounted, and Elrond’s sons followed suit, for no horse was allowed in the Citadel, and their mounts suffered themselves to be led away by leave of the soft whispered words of their masters.
Long had been their riding, and they had scarcely paused in their sojourn, save only in the heat of the sun to spare their horses. The lands of Rohan had given way to the Anorien, and as they rode into the night Elrohir had spied on the mountains to their right side flames springing up here and there, and they knew the Beacons had been lit, summoning the allies of Minas Tirith to her aid and defense.
Thus they came to the Rammas, a great wall of stone encompassing the fields and land around about the White City, and a great commotion there was in that place. Partly ruinous had it seemed but even though it was night when they arrived, the sound of hurried labour could be heard: beat of hammers, clink of trowels, and the creak of wheels. Torches and flares glowed dully here and there in the gloom giving light to the labourers, and here and there were tall men clad in mail and armed with spear and bent bow.
The guards were reluctant to let them pass, for the order had come done that there were to be no strangers allowed the enter, unless they be mighty men of arms in whose faith and help they can trust. But seeing that they were of the Noldorin people, of whose great friendship was shared with Elendil and his sons was still known and tales of which were still told, and hearing of their errand to bring counsel to the Lord of the City, the elves were hastily allowed through unimpeded. As they urged their tired horses across the Pelennor Glorfindel spied a clutch of doves overheard flying toward the city, and knew word of their coming went ahead of them. Indeed each of the seven gates of the seven levels of the White City opened before them as they approached, and wordlessly they were allowed to ascend to the gate to the Court of the Fountain at the summit of Minas Tirith.
The Guards of that gate were robed in black, and their helms were of strange shape, high- crowned, with long cheek-guards close-fitting to the face, and above the cheek-guards were set the white wings of sea-birds; but the helms gleamed with a flame of silver, for they were indeed wrought of mithril, heirlooms from the glory of old days. Upon the black surcoats were embroidered in white a tree blossoming like snow beneath a silver crown and many-pointed stars. This was the livery of the heirs of Elendil, and none wore it now in all Gondor, save the Guards of the Citadel before the Court of the Fountain where the White Tree once had grown.
At once they were admitted, swiftly and silently, and without question. Quickly Glorfindel strode across the white-paved court, followed by Elrohir and then Elladan. A sweet fountain played there in the morning sun, and a sward of bright green lay about it; but in the midst. drooping over the pool, stood a dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water.
And then they found themselves at the doors of the great hall beneath the gleaming tower at the pinnacle of the city; and together the three passed the tall silent door-wardens and entered the cool echoing shadows of the house of stone.
They walked down a paved passage, long and empty before coming to a great door of polished metal. There Glorfindel knocked and immediately the door opened, but no one could be seen to open it. Beyond was a great hall, lit by deep windows in the wide aisles at either side, beyond the rows of tall pillars that upheld the roof; and between the pillars there stood a silent company of tall images graven in cold stone, likenesses of the kings of old that had passed into the night.
At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a high throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap. In his hand was a white rod with a golden knob. He did not look up. Solemnly they paced the long floor towards him, until they stood three paces from his footstool, hands clasped behind their backs. Then Glorfindel spoke.
“Hail, Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, Denethor son of Ecthelion! I am Glorfindel of the House of Golden Flower, and with me are Elladan and Elrond, sons of Elrond Halfelven, Master of Imladris, from whom we come with greetings. We are come to offer counsel and tidings in this dark hour and indeed such aid as we may.”
Then the old man looked up and turned his carven face with its proud bones toward them. “Dark indeed is the hour,” said the old man, “for those of the Noldorin peoples to venture forth so far from their stronghold. But though all the signs forebode that the doom of Gondor is drawing nigh, less now to me is that darkness with your coming, for the friendship of the Master of Imladris has long been treasured in this city, though scarce has been its renewal. It has been told to me that you travelled for a while with my son, who was sent to your haven seeking counsel.”
“We have,” said Glorfindel. “Many roads through darkness and peril we shared together, and time and again he proved the valour of Gondor remains undaunted. My companions with me especially grew close with your son. We know not where his path has taken him now, but it may please you to know that when last we saw him he was fit and well.”
“You speak of your path, but not your purpose. I wonder what you think you keep from me.” Denethor studied the three elves intently, “But come, you have travelled far and must be hungry. Let us break bread together, as friends ought.”
As he spoke there was no warmth in the Steward’s face, courteous though his words were. And he struck a small silver gong that stood near his footstool, and at once servants came forward. Elladan saw then that they had been standing in alcoves on either side of the door, unseen as they had entered.
“Bring wine and food and seats for the guests,” said Denethor, “and see that none trouble us for one hour. I apologise for the briefness of our time, but that is all I have to spare for there is much else to heed. But perhaps we may speak again on the morrow.”
“If earlier might not be hoped for,” said Glorfindel. “For we have ridden many miles with news of great portent. We have come most recently from Rohan, where Theoden King has fallen in battle and his nephew, Eomer son of Eomund, now rules from Meduseld. The traitor Saruman has been thrown down and Mithrandir has been freed from his bondage.”
“Grievous indeed is the news of Theoden’s death, for ever was he a loyal and noble ally to us,” Denethor bowed his head. “And if his nephew proves to be half the measure of a king that Theoden was he shall be great indeed. But the time to mourn for the fallen is not yet, and I know already sufficient of these matters for my own counsel against the menace of the East.” He turned his dark eyes on Glorfindel.
“Yea,” he said; “for though the Stones be lost, they say, still the lords of Gondor have keener sight than lesser men, and many messages come to them. But sit now, let us eat.”
Then men came bearing three chairs and one brought a salver with a silver flagon and cups, and another white bread, cured meats and two small wheels of cheese.
“Now tell me your tale, my lords,” said Denethor, half benevolently; half mockingly. “For the words of one whom my son Faramir so befriended will be welcome indeed.”
And so for that hour the three elves were put to the test by the piercing eye of the Lord of Gondor, stabbed ever and anon by his shrewd questions. It seemed to his guests that the Steward indeed knew more than he showed, and as soon as one question had been answered to his satisfaction a new line of inquiry was begun. When the hour was over, Denethor again rang the gong.
“Lead these our guests to the housing prepared for them,” said Denethor. “Be it known that I have now taken them under my protection, and see to it they are taught the lesser pass-words. Send word to the Captains that they shall wait on me here, as soon as may be after the third hour has rung.
“And you, my Lord Glorfindel, and of course Lords Elladan and Elrohir, shall come too, as and when you will. None shall hinder your coming to me at any time, save only in my brief hours of sleep.”
With that the three elves bowed and left the presence of Denethor, Steward of Gondor.
Together they went to the place that had been prepared for them, led by a guide sent to show them their way. They were taken across the Court of the Fountain into a lane between tall buildings of stone. After several turns they came to a house close to the wall of the citadel upon the north side, not far from the shoulder that linked the hill with the mountain. Within, upon the first floor above the street, up a wide carven stair, he showed them to a fair room, light and airy, with goodly hangings of dull gold sheen unfigured. It was sparely furnished, having but a small table, two chairs and a bench; but at either side there were curtained alcoves and well-clad beds within with vessels and basins for washing. There were three high narrow windows that looked northward over the great curve of Anduin, still shrouded in mists, towards the Emyn Muil and Rauros far away.
They did not stay long, but departed and went to the stables led once again by their guide, who spoke not a word to them, but quickly moved to carry out any request asked of him. And so they found their horses had been well housed and tended. For in the sixth circle, outside the walls of the citadel, there were some fair stables where a few swift horses were kept, hard by the lodgings of the errand-riders of the Lord: messengers always ready to go at the urgent command of Denethor or his chief captains. But now all the horses and the riders were out and away. Seeing that their mounts had been placed in the hands of those who cared for their charges, the three elves took their leave and returned once again to the court of Denethor, pausing only briefly at their quarters to change out of their travel-stained garb into vestige more fitting for those at council.
So they came to that great hall once again, no longer cool and still but filled with an assembly of many people, captains and courtiers, chief merchants and masons alike dressed according to their fashion as those who might be ready to give battle in but a short while. All the most prominent men of the city were gathered there, for while those who has seen too many winters and too few had been evacuated, and few women or children outside of the Houses of Healing remained, many of those who were able stayed behind to defend the White City however they could. A great long table now lay in the centre of the room. No weapon was borne openly in that gathering, save only by the great Captains of Gondor who were each permitted to bear a sword by their side, and the Guards of the Citadel whose tall spears glinted in the sun let in through the tall windows lining the room. That same courtesy had been extended to Glorfindel, who openly wore Glamdring at his side, while the twins left their own blades in their lodgings. They were among the last to enter the hall, followed only by a breathless youth bearing a scroll, and a man clothed in greens and browns, stained from travel and the elements.
Almost as soon as he had entered through the doors to the hall, a man clad in black and carrying a staff of white ashen wood entered the far side of the room. He was followed by the Lord Denethor carrying the White Rod of the Stewards, then came a man whose height surpassed even the tallest else in the room and on his back a great sword and in his hands he bore a great key of polished iron, and finally one proud and noble, clad in armour which bore a token of the Ship and the Silver Swan on his breast, and under his arm he carried a helm with wings plumed white. The man who bore the staff struck it thrice upon the stone floor, and all conversation stilled as those in the room gathered around the great table. At it were placed two dozen chairs, high-backed but unadorned, and those to whom the greatest authority was afforded stood behind them, each according to their place. At the head stood the one who bore the great key, and to his right stood Denethor and to his left stood he that bore the winged helm. One by one all the chairs were claimed save two, which was by the side of Denethor and of he bearing the token of the Ship and the Swan. Seeing the three Elves there in that chamber, he motioned to them and they approached.
“The chair of my son Boromir, Captain-General of our forces and High Warden of the White Tower, here stands empty.” Laying his hand on the back of the chair, the Steward spoke aloud that all may hear. “I can think of none better here who might join us here in his absence, for the wisdom of the Eldar folk is well known throughout the world.”
Glorfindel said nought, but bowing to Denethor he took his place behind the chair next to him. Then he that stood at the head of the table welcomed those there, and his words were not loud but all there could hear them clearly as they rang out. “This meeting of the Council of Gondor has been called by our Lord Steward, and you have answered. It falls to me, Hurin, Warden of the Keys, to place the prosperity and security of this realm into your hands. May He that is Beyond and Behind All grant us wisdom.” And as Hurin spoke he drew from his back the great sword that he carried, forged and fashioned in the traditions of Numenor that was lost, and placed it upon the table, blade pointed inward. Then he lay on its length the great key of iron, and doing thus he sat in his place.
Denethor spoke next, and placing the White Rod on the table before him called on those gathered. “I, Denethor son of Ecthelion and Steward of Gondor until the king returns, have summoned you to this council. Who are you that would answer my call, and so to see the prosperity of Gondor preserved?”
Before the echoes of his words had faded the man opposite spoke. “I, Imrahil son of Adrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, do answer.” And placing his winged helm on the table he sat. All eyes then turned to Glorfindel, but the Steward placed a hand on his shoulder and bade him sit. “For I have no authority to call you, nor to require any pledge from you. Sit now, and be welcome.”
And so all those at the table answered the call, the Captains of the Seven Gates, and of the Rammas Echor, the Masters of Healing and Lore, and lastly the man clad in brown and green identified himself as Belagon, Captain of those yet in Osgiliath and Ithilien. Each who bore a sword too placed it on the table before them, in like manner as did Hurin, Warden of the Keys. Of all those there, Belagon was called on to speak first, for his matter was the most pressing.
Belagon spoke of many things: of the increasing numbers of Haradrim on the road marching north he told, and of the great fire that had consumed much of Ithilien. He spoke of their march on the fortress of Minas Morgul, and the terror that there smote them. Quiet and stillness fell on the room as Belagon told of their defeat, and the retreat that had turned to a rout. How the terror had pursued them as far as The Crossroads where their rearguard had remained to buy with their lives as much time as could be. And of Boromir he spoke also, of his bravery and nobility, of his desire to throw the Enemy back to the very walls of Mordor itself, and of what seemed his last stand to hold back the Morgul Host at the White Bridge. “He sent me away,” Belagon explained. “He ordered me to retreat, and such was my terror I turned away and obeyed, leading with me all who could flee. Ithilien is now emptied of all our forces, save only a handful who would not leave but vowed to sell their lives dearly. We are all gathered into the Western City of Osgiliath, even yesterday morning were we not assembled. I have come before you now asking for aid from the White City, for such a force as follows now we cannot withstand, swollen as it is by streams of Men, Orcs and foul things from southern Harad and northern Morannon.”
A cloud passed over the sun and the air grew chill. Denethor offered neither praise nor rebuke to Belagon for his deeds, but thanked him for his words. “Hope is not yet lost, for now the men of the Outlands and Fiefdoms arrived two days past, though the bulk of their armies have been left to defend the south. For as we know, the Corsairs of Umbar have long plagued us, and even now a great fleet has entered the mouth of the Anduin, bringing fire and war to the heart of this realm. And word also has been sent to Theoden of Rohan, asking that they remember their ancient oaths and come to us when our need is most dire.”
He made as though to continue when a horn’s cry was heard from outside, and then a second, and a third. At the sound of bells, all were on their feet and swords were returned to scabbards, and the doors of the hall were thrust open. No sunlight entered in, for the whole sky was now covered in a darkness billowing forth from Orodruin, but a hot wind drove into the room causing torches to flicker and eyes to smart. And out across the Pelennor fires could be seen on the Rammas. As the captains and advisors gathered in the Fountain Court overlooking the city below, the fires seemed to spread and grow across the walls, and now ever and anon there was a red flash, and slowly through the heavy air dull rumbles could be heard. All across the city watchmen cried aloud, and all men in the City were stood to arms.
There was sudden a flurry of wings and a small trembling white dove landed in the outstretched hands of the Captain of the Sixth Gate, who kept the messenger birds used by the sentries, guards and scouts in all that area. He set down the bird and, unfurling a small scroll of parchment taken from its leg, he began to read. “The city is fallen. I am sending all the birds. The Enemy have paid dear for the crossing but less dearly than we hoped. The Black Captain has come. Boromir commands the retreat.”
Even as he read, watchers on the walls could see the retreat of the out-companies. Small bands of weary and often wounded men came first with little order; some were running wildly as if pursued. Away to the eastward the distant fires flickered; and now it seemed that here and there they crept across the plain. Houses and barns were burning. Then from many points little rivers of red flame came hurrying on, winding through the gloom, converging towards the line of the broad road that led from the City-gate to Osgiliath.
“The enemy,” men murmured. “The dike is down. Here they come pouring through the breaches! Where are our own folk? Where are our soldiers?”
It drew now to noon by the hour, but the light was so dim that even far-sighted men upon the Citadel could discern little clearly out upon the fields, save only the burnings that ever multiplied, and the lines of fire that grew in length and speed. At last, the eyes of Elladan and Elrohir could pick out a more ordered mass of men coming into view, marching not running, still holding together. When this was told to the others, a cry went up. “That must be Boromir,” said Imrahil. “Ever was he master of the hearts of men, lending valour to their courage.”
Then it was that Denethor drew himself up to his full height, and cast open his long black cloak, and behold! he was clad in armour beneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver. “Thus have I walked,” he said, “clad in mind if not always in body, that I might be ready to meet the day of the enemy. Thus now shall we face our doom. My good Prince!” Imrahil knelt before the Steward. “You know what needs to be done. Are your knights prepared?”
“They stand ready, my lord,” Imrahil affirmed.
“Then go now, for the time is at hand to make our stand. Save as many as you can for the defense of this city will need all its strength, but do not risk your knights heedlessly to rescue those for whom escape is too distant a hope.”
The Swan Prince nodded and took his leave of those assembled, and departed from the Court of the Fountain. As he went, Glorfindel turned to Denethor and petitioned him leave to join Imrahil in the sortie. The old man smiled grimly.
“Far be it from me to deny you, my Lord Glorfindel, for doubtless by your might and valour more lives may yet be saved. But the same advice I would offer you, do not risk your life carelessly. For I forsee we will have need of you before the end of our time here. But hasten, lest the Swan Knights depart without you.”
Elladan and Elrohir watched as Glorfindel too left the courtyard, bidden by him to stay lest all three fall and Minas Tirith be left without counsel that they might offer. And so silently they watched as that company of men slowly marched across the field of Pelennor. Before them had come many others wounded, fleeing on horse and in wains and on foot.
Now the main retreat was scarcely two furlongs distant. Out of the gloom behind a small company of horsemen galloped, all that was left of the rearguard. Once again they turned at bay, facing the oncoming lines of fire. Then suddenly there was a tumult of fierce cries. Horsemen of the enemy swept up. The lines of fire became flowing torrents, file upon file of Orcs bearing flames, and wild Southron men with red banners, shouting with harsh tongues, surging up, overtaking the retreat. And with a piercing cry out of the dim sky fell the winged shadows, the Nazgûl stooping to the kill. The retreat became a rout. Already men were breaking away, flying wild and witless here and there, flinging away their weapons, crying out in fear, falling to the ground.
Then out from the midst of the rout a horn let loose its cry. Loud the challenge rang and bellowed, like the shout of many throats upon the open field. For a moment the orcs quailed and the fiery rivers halted and the winged shadows flinched and wheeled away. The men upon the field regained their courage and began to band together once again, and for a brief moment hope flickered in the hearts of those that were in the city. Then the echoes died as suddenly as a flame blown out by a dark wind, and the enemy advanced again.
And then a trumpet rang from the Citadel, and the sortie was at last released. Drawn up within the shadow of the Gate and under the looming walls outside they had waited for his signal: all the mounted men that were left in the City. Now they sprang forward, formed, quickened to a gallop, and charged with a great shout. And from the walls an answering shout went up; for foremost on the field rode the swan-knights of Dol Amroth with their Prince and his blue banner at their head.
“Amroth for Gondor!” they cried. “Amroth to Boromir!”
Like thunder they broke upon the enemy on either flank of the retreat; but one rider outran them all, for his rider bore no heavy armour or weaponry save Glamdring only. And Glorfindel seemed as it were to shine, unveiling the light of Valinor that dwelt within him, and from his person all shadow seemed to flee. The Nazgûl screeched and swept away, for their Captain was not yet come to challenge the white fire of his foe, and great was their terror of the memory of his wrath upon the banks of the Bruinen. The hosts of Morgul intent on their prey, taken at unawares in wild career, broke, scattering like sparks in a gale. The out-companies with a great cheer turned and smote their pursuers. Hunters became the hunted. The retreat became an onslaught. The field was strewn with stricken orcs and men, and a reek arose of torches cast away, sputtering out in swirling smoke. The cavalry rode on.
But Denethor did not permit them to go far. Though the enemy was checked, and for the moment driven back, great forces were flowing in from the East. Again the trumpet rang, sounding the retreat. The cavalry of Gondor halted. Behind their screen the out-companies re-formed. Now steadily they came marching back. They reached the Gate of the City and entered, stepping proudly: and proudly the people of the City looked on them and cried their praise, and yet they were troubled in heart. For the companies were grievously reduced. Boromir had lost a third of his men. And where was he? Last of all he came. His men passed in. The mounted knights returned, and at their rear the banner of Dol Amroth, and the Prince. And in his arms before him on his horse he bore the body of his kinsman, Boromir son of Denethor, found upon the stricken field. “Boromir! Boromir!” men cried, weeping in the streets. But he did not answer, and they bore him away up the winding road to the Citadel and his father. For unbeknownst to any that were with him, save only those who were also at the Pass of Cirith Ungol, that the foul venom of Shelob still coursed the veins of Boromir, tainting his blood and sapping his strength even as he rallied the men of Gondor against the tide of Mordor. And so it was that even as he held at bay a mounted champion of Harad, he had fallen to the earth. Only the charge of Dol Amroth had saved him from the red southland swords that would have hewed him as he lay.
The Prince Imrahil brought Boromir to the White Tower together with Glorfindel, and he said: Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds, and he told all that he had seen. But Denethor rose and looked on the face of his son and was silent. Then he bade them make a bed in the chamber and lay Boromir upon it and depart. But he himself went up alone into the secret room under the summit of the Tower; and many who looked up thither at that time saw a pale light that gleamed and flickered from the narrow windows for a while, and then flashed and went out. And when Denethor descended again he went to Boromir and sat beside him without speaking, but the face of the Lord was grey, more deathlike than his son’s.
So now at last the City was besieged, enclosed in a ring of foes. The Rammas was broken, and all the Pelennor abandoned to the Enemy. The last word to come from outside the walls was brought by men flying down the northward road ere the Gate was shut at the close of the day. They were the remnant of the guard that was kept at that point where the way from Anórien and Rohan ran into the townlands: Ingold led them, the same who had admitted Glorfindel and the sons of Elrond less than a day before, while the sun still rose and there was hope in the morning.
“There is no news of the Rohirrim,” he said. “Rohan will not come now. Or if they come, it will not avail us. The new host that we had tidings of has come first, from over the River by way of Andros, it is said. They are strong: battalions of Orcs of the Eye, and countless companies of Men of a new sort that we have not met before. Not tall, but broad and grim, bearded like dwarves, wielding great axes. Out of some savage land in the wide East they come, we deem. They hold the northward road; and many have passed on into Anórien. The Rohirrim cannot come.”
The Gate was shut. All night watchmen on the walls heard the rumour of the enemy that roamed outside, burning field and tree, and hewing any man that they found abroad, living or dead. The numbers that had already passed over the River could not be guessed in the darkness, but when morning, or its dim shadow, stole over the plain, it was seen that even fear by night had scarcely over-counted them. The plain was dark with their marching companies, and as far as eyes could strain in the mirk there sprouted, like a foul fungus-growth, all about the beleaguered city great camps of tents, black or sombre red.
Busy as ants hurrying orcs were digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring, just out of bowshot from the walls; and as the trenches were made each was filled with fire, though how it was kindled or fed, by art or devilry, none could see. All day the labour went forward, while the men of Minas Tirith looked on, unable to hinder it. And as each length of trench was completed, they could see great wains approaching; and soon yet more companies of the enemy were swiftly setting up, each behind the cover of a trench, great engines for the casting of missiles. There were none upon the City walls large enough to reach so far or to stay the work. At first men laughed and did not greatly fear such devices. For the main wall of the City was of great height and marvellous thickness, built ere the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile.
But the engines did not waste shot upon the indomitable wall. It was no brigand or orc-chieftain that ordered the assault upon the Lord of Mordor’s greatest foe. A power and mind of malice guided it. As soon as the great catapults were set, with many yells and the creaking of rope and winch, they began to throw missiles marvellously high, so that they passed right above the battlement and fell thudding within the first circle of the City; and many of them by some secret art burst into flame as they came toppling down. Soon there was great peril of fire behind the wall, and all who could be spared were busy quelling the flames that sprang up in many places.
In vain men shook their fists at the pitiless foes that swarmed before the Gate. Curses they heeded not, nor understood the tongues of western men; crying with harsh voices like beasts and carrion-birds. But soon there were few left in Minas Tirith who had the heart to stand up and defy the hosts of Mordor. For yet another weapon, swifter than hunger, the Lord of the Dark Tower had: dread and despair. The Nazgul came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror. Ever they circled above the City, like vultures that expect their fill of doomed men’s flesh. Out of sight and shot they flew, and yet were ever present, and their deadly voices rent the air. More unbearable they became, not less, at each new cry. At length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.
But though the need of his men was great, of the City’s Lord there was no sign on the ramparts, for by the bed of Boromir his father sat, and said nothing, but watched, and gave no longer any heed to the defence. Boromir lay in the chamber of the White Tower, wandering in a desperate fever despite the attentions of the finest healers in the city. Glorfindel petitioned him for direction and strategy, and counselled him with hope, and yet Denethor spoke but once to him and then fell silent.
“Comfort me not, Elf-Lord!” said Denethor. “The fool’s hope has failed. The Enemy has found
it, and now his power waxes; he sees our very thoughts, and all we do is ruinous. Nay, nay, whatever may now betide in war, my line too is ending. Nay, I will not come down. I must stay beside my son. He might still speak before the end. But that is near. Do as you will, though your hope has failed. Here I stay.”
So it was that Glorfindel took command of the last defence of the City of Gondor, setting upon the First Wall the sons of Elrond to command the defense where the fighting was thickest. And wherever Glorfindel came men’s hearts would lift again, and the winged shadows pass from memory. Tirelessly he strode from Citadel to Gate, from north to south about the wall; and with him went the Prince of Dol Amroth in his shining mail. For he and his knights still held themselves like lords in whom the race of Númenor ran true. So it was that upon the Third Level he calmed and commanded a company of archers to focus their darts upon the winged shadows whenever they drew close enough. And one such shaft flew true and steady, though scores had fallen heedless into the air before, and the fell steed of a Dark Rider was smote under its wing. And the cry that was sent up pierced the hearts of all who heard it, be they servants of the Dark Tower or the White. And as they quailled, down fell that Winged Wraith upon the field of Pelennor, and its ruin was mighty and terrible, rising no more to plague the hearts of men.
A cheer went up among the men of the City, and one sang the staves of the Lay of Nimrodel amidst the gloom, and hearts were lifted. But again the shadows swiftly closed on men again, with fury giving strength to the terror they inflicted upon the defenders upon the walls. And hearts went cold, and the valour of Gondor withered into ash. And so slowly they passed out of a dim day of fears into the darkness of a desperate night. Fires now raged unchecked in the first circle of the City, and the garrison upon the outer wall was already in many places cut off from retreat. But the faithful who remained there at their posts were few, held only there by the valour and courage of Elladan and Elrohir who stood above the gate wielding bow and javelin. But ever their numbers dwindled, for by arrow or by fear many and more were driven from the parapets, and most had fled beyond the second gate.
Far behind the battle the River had been swiftly bridged, and all day more force and gear of war had poured across. Now at last in the middle night the assault was loosed. The vanguard passed through the trenches of fire by many devious paths that had been left between them. On they came, reckless of their loss as they approached, still bunched and herded, within the range of bowmen on the wall. But indeed there were too few now left there to do them great damage, though the light of the fires showed up many a mark for archers of such skill as Gondor once had boasted. Then perceiving that the valour of the City was already beaten down, the hidden Captain put forth his strength. Slowly the great siege-towers built in Osgiliath rolled forward through the dark.
Ever since the middle night the great assault had gone on. The drums rolled. To the north and to the south company upon company of the enemy pressed to the walls. There came great beasts, like moving houses in the red and fitful light, the mumakil of the Harad dragging through the lanes amid the fires huge towers and engines. Yet their Captain cared not greatly what they did or how many might be slain: their purpose was only to test the strength of the defence and to keep the men of Gondor busy in many places. It was against the Gate that he would throw his heaviest weight. Very strong it might be, wrought of steel and iron, and guarded with towers and bastions of indomitable stone, yet it was the key, the weakest point in all that high and impenetrable wall.
The drums rolled louder. Fires leaped up. Great engines crawled across the field; and in the midst was a huge ram, great as a forest-tree a hundred feet in length, swinging on mighty chains. Long had it been forging in the dark smithies of Mordor, and its hideous head, founded of black steel, was shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf; on it spells of ruin lay. Grond they named it, in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. Great beasts drew it, Orcs surrounded it, and behind walked mountain-trolls to wield it. But about the Gate resistance still was stout, and there the sons of Elrond together with the knights of Dol Amroth and the hardiest of the garrison stood at bay. Shot and dart fell thick; siege-towers crashed or blazed suddenly like torches. All before the walls on either side of the Gate the ground was choked with wreckage and with bodies of the slain; yet still driven as by a madness more and more came up.
Grond crawled on, and as a terrible vanguard before it the siege-towers reached the walls. Few defenders yet remained upon them, but those who did met the onslaught of orcs with a grim determination. Arrows and darts sprang from the Second Wall, and many foes fell from their heights to ruin.
Grond crawled on. The tide assaulting the walls did not abate, and slowly the defenders were driven back. And as water assails breeches in a dam, so too the host of Mordor beat itself upon the White City. Orcs bearing great shields ascended the towers. One foothold upon the walls became two, and a third and fourth were added.
Grond crawled on. Upon its housing no fire would catch; and though now and again some great beast that hauled it would go mad and spread stamping ruin among the orcs innumerable that guarded it, their bodies were cast aside from its path and others took their place.
Grond crawled on. The drums rolled wildly. Over the hills of slain a hideous shape appeared: a horseman, tall, hooded, cloaked in black. Slowly, trampling the fallen, he rode forth, heeding no longer any dart. He halted and held up a long pale sword. And as he did so a great fear fell on all, defender and foe alike; and the hands of men drooped to their sides, and no bow sang. For a moment all was still. And in that very moment a cry of despair came from the upper reaches of the city, for it seemed as though their final doom now approached.
Upon the highest reaches of the White City, there were watchmen who had seen all that had gone on. They saw the fires in the lower levels of the city, and the approach of the great engine. Grond and trembled. But now the sight that greeted them caused their hearts to quail and lose all hope that remained. Looking thither they cried in dismay; for black against the stream they beheld a fleet borne up on the wind: dromunds, and ships of great draught with many oars, and with black sails bellying in the breeze.
“The Corsairs of Umbar!” men shouted. “The Corsairs of Umbar! Look! The Corsairs of Umbar are coming! So Belfalas is taken, and the Ethir, and Lebennin is gone. The Corsairs are upon us! It is the last stroke of doom!”
And some without order, for none could be found to command them in the City, ran to the bells and tolled the alarm; and some blew the trumpets sounding the retreat. “Back to the upper levels!” they cried. But the wind that sped the ships blew all their clamour away.
And that same wind caught with it the cloud of darkness that had swept over that land, and the moon and stars were revealed to all those below, bathing the Pelennor in a pale light that shone down upon them all. And behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars glinted in the moonlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells. But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes.
But it was no orc-chieftain or brigand that led the assault upon Gondor. The darkness was breaking too soon, before the date that his Master had set for it: fortune had betrayed him for the moment, and the world had turned against him; victory was slipping from his grasp even as he stretched out his hand to seize it. But his arm was long. He was still in command, wielding great powers. King, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgûl, he had many weapons. He left the Gate and vanished.
For even now men leaped from the ships to the quays of the Harlond and swept north like a storm. There came Legolas, and Merry with his dagger preserved out of Westernesse of old, and Halbarad with the standard, and Idraen and Thurindir with stars upon their breasts, and Thalion and Beravor and Sulien and others of the dour-handed Dúnedain, Rangers of the North, leading a great valour of the folk of Lebennin and Lamedon and the fiefs of the South. But before all went Aragorn with the Flame of the West, Andúril like a new fire kindled, Narsil reforged as deadly as of old: and upon his brow was the Star of Elendil.
Great was the onslaught of the Dunedain and the men of Gondor, and many orcs and variags and southrons fell beneath them, never to rise again. And now the fighting waxed furious on the fields of the Pelennor; and the din of arms rose upon high, with the crying of men and the neighing of horses. Horns were blown and trumpets were braying, and the mumakil were bellowing as they were goaded to war, the greatest of which crashed through the walls of the Rammas to more swiftly engage these new foes, such was its strength and wrath.
While the great onslaught of the onset of the Dunedain had utterly overthrown the front of their enemies, and great wedges of their spears and swords had passed clear through the ranks of the Southrons, discomfiting their horsemen and driving their footmen to ruin. But wherever the mumakil came there the men of the North and of Gondor could not go, and the great monsters were unfought, and stood like towers of defence, and the Haradrim rallied about them. Yet skilled were the archers that were among them, and more than one beast was driven into madness by the many stinging darts of the Dunedain, scattering about those that were near. But if the those that came out of the ships at their onset were thrice outnumbered by the Haradrim alone, soon their case became worse; for new strength came now streaming to the field out of Osgiliath. There they had been mustered for the sack of the City and the rape of Gondor, waiting on the call of their Captain. He now flung them into the fray; Easterlings with axes, and Variags of Khand. Southrons in scarlet, and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues.
Yet before Anduril none could stand, and the Elendilmir shone with a radiance upon the brow of Aragorn, and around him and the Banner of Elendil rallied round their forces. But their foes pressed round, and filled with a new lust and fury they came yelling to the onset. And sore pressed, the Dunedain began to give ground, though it was dearly bought by the blood of their foes.
From the east a fire spread along the horizon, and seemingly with a flash the bright and pale sun crested the horizon. Darkness still covered much of the land, but even now the wind drove all shadow away before it. For morning had come, and morning and the wind from the sea dispelled the gloom of Mordor, so as orcs wailed and trembled, and men cast up their hands at the brightness thereof.
And as if in joyous greeting there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
It had been many days hard riding, and through hidden ways they had been led by allies unknown, before Eomer led his eoreds onto the fields of Pelennor. And when he saw the agony of Minas Tirith, and smelled the burning and death in the air, the heart of Eomund’s son was filled with a great wrath.
Eomer drew himself up to his full height, tall and proud he seemed; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise, Riders of Rohan!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
Suddenly the young king cried to Firefoot and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. The front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Eomer could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of Eorl himself ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Firefoot like a god of old, even as Tulkas the Strong in the battle of the Valar when the world was young, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed. His crimson shield was uncovered, and lo! it gleamed bright in the rising Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning had come and the darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.
And seeing this Aragorn raised his sword, and he sang as it caught the sun, and all that were with him were heartened and they fell upon their foes with renewed fervour. And as they drove all before them, the Dunedain split their force into three parts. Idraen, Warden of the North, led her force to the Rammas, that the tide of foes coming forth yet from Osgiliath might be stemmed in part. And the men of Pelargir and of the Blackroot Vale went with them, bearing great pikes and long bows that, when formed into a great phalanx, were enough even to ward of the great mumakil of the south. To the north, to meet with the men of Rohan went Thurindir, and he took with him those of Lamedon and of Lebennin, hardy men wielding sword and axe, and they drove a wedge deep into the ranks of Mordor. Aragorn took the greater part of their folk, together with Merry and Legolas, and also those of Lossarnach and Belfalas, and slaves of the ships set free.
Together they set for the Gate of Minas Tirith, for there the fighting still lay thickest as the assault had not abated, even with the arrival of the Black Ships and the Rohirrim together. And as they drew nearer the walls they were among the siege-engines, hewing, slaying, driving their foes into the fire-pits. Well nigh all the northern half of the Pelennor was overrun, and there camps were blazing, orcs were flying like herds before the hunters; and the Rohirrim went hither and thither at their will. But even together they had not yet overthrown the siege, nor won the Gate. Many foes stood before it, and on the further half of the plain were other hosts still unfought.
Southward beyond the road lay the main force of the Haradrim, and there their horsemen were gathered about the standard of their chieftain, he known as the Black Serpent. And he looked out, and in the growing light he saw the banner of Elendil, and that it was far ahead of the battle with relatively few men about it. Then he was filled with a red wrath and shouted aloud, and displaying his standard, black serpent upon scarlet, he came against the white tree and the black with great press of men; and the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars.
Then Aragorn was aware of him, and would not wait for his onset, but crying aloud the name of Elendil he charged headlong to greet him, and with him came his kin, and the men of Lossarnach and Belfalas. Such was the hardred of the freedmen for the Southrons they cast themselves at their foes, heedless of their own lives or of any sense of danger. Great was the clash of their meeting. But the white fury of the Gondorians burned the hotter, and more skilled was the prowess of the Dunedain with sword and spear. Fewer were they but they withstood and broke the Southrons like a rock amid rushing water. Right through the press fought Aragorn, coming face to face with the Black Serpent. Mighty was the clash of their meeting, for the Southron chief was a veteran of many wars and skirmishes, and there was none in all of Harad who could match his skill with the sword. First one and then another who came out of the far North met their end at his hand, Amarthiul was laid low by his blade and Eldahir fell before him also.
But before him now was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dunedain and Heir to Elendil, and in his hand was Anduril, Flame of the West and Narsil reforged, and the Black Serpent was outmatched. Valiantly he fought, not out of fear of Mordor nor fealty to its Dark Lord, but love of his people and hatred of Gondor spurred him on and lent strength to his arm. Long and bitter was the enmity between their two peoples, and many hurts had been dealt one to the other. And though he did not trust the Dark Lord of Barad-dur, The Black Serpent would seize any opportunity to rid his people of their ancient foe. And yet for all his skill and zeal he could not overcome the son of Arathorn, and with a sweep of Anduril he was cast down, never to rise again.
Thus it was that Chieftain of the Southron peoples fell, and straightway his standard was cut down and all his folk who saw and were left unslain turned and fled far away. At that moment the first eored of Rohan thundered toward them, driving from that place all foes who yet remained. And so at length Eomer and Aragorn met in the midst of the battle, and they leaned on their swords and looked on one another and were glad. “Thus we meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor lay between us,” said Aragorn. “Did I not say so at the Tower of Orthanc?”
“So you spoke,” said Eomer, “but hope oft deceives, and I knew not then that you were a man foresighted. Yet never was a meeting of friends more joyful.” And they clasped hand in hand.
“Nor indeed more timely,” said Aragorn. “You come none too soon, my friend. Much loss and sorrow has befallen us.”
“Then let us avenge it now together, ere we speak of it!’ said Eomer, and they rode back to battle together.
And at that moment from the City many horns cried aloud and bells pealed and the shout of a great many men issued forth. For from its gates rode forth Glorfindel and Prince Imrahil, together with Elladan and Elrohir, having gathered together every man in the city who may yet be found to bear arms, and driving the enemy from the walls and from the Gates. And the forces of Mordor were thrown into confusion and disarray, beset on all sides by foes unexpected and unlooked for. Under the south walls of the City the footmen of Gondor now drove against the legions of Morgul that were still gathered there in strength. And the horsemen rode eastward to the succour of Aragorn and Eomer: Húrin the Tall Warden of the Keys, and the Lord of Lossarnach, and Hirluin of the Green Hills, and Prince Imrahil the fair with his knights all about him.
But lo! suddenly in the midst of his glory the sun upon Aragorn’s standard was dimmed and the light were blotted from the sky. Dark fell about him and men flung themselves on the ground in fear. Next to him the Dunedain Thalion cried aloud and fell, for a black dart had struck his side and he moved no more. And the great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Thalion, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck.
Upon it sat a shape, black-mantled, huge and threatening. A crown of steel he bore, but between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes: the Lord of the Nazgul. To the air he had returned, summoning his steed ere the darkness failed, and now he was come again, bringing ruin, turning hope to despair, and victory to death. A great black mace he wielded and terror radiated out from him as a miasmic cloud.
But Aragorn was not utterly forsaken. Looking about him he saw many of his kin slain upon the ground, or driven off by fear. Those Rohirrim who were still on horseback had been carried off by the madness of their steed, and even Eomer upon Firefoot was borne away. Yet by him still remained Meriadoc, who had followed Aragorn close through the whole of the battle thus far, and though driven to his knees by the terror and stench of the Fell Beast that now descended would not now leave his friend when all hope seemed lost. And there too was Legolas Greenleaf, son of Mirkwood, who drew back his bow and sent an arrow into the flank of that monstrous steed. It did not flinch or stir for, whether by strength or sorcery, it did not seem to feel the shaft’s sting.
From the Lord of the Nazgul however there came a cold laugh, as the sound of chains pulled over flagstones. “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey. Or you too shall be bourne away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.” And with a stab of unadulterated horror Merry saw that the invisible gaze of the Witch-king was set on him and him alone, and he shut his eyes and hid his face from them. “But surrender the halfling to me, and as a token of goodwill I shall leave you with your wretched lives for now.”
And Aragorn set his face toward the Nazgul, grim and dour, and with a voice filled with fury and resolution he uttered “Begone from this place, foul dwimmerlaik. Your hour is past, and there shall soon be no place where you or your master may find refuge.”
The winged creature screamed at him, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent. Some unexpected courage for a moment conquered Merry’s fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair.
Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Aragorn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
A swift stroke he dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck he clove asunder with Anduril, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward hhe sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth. But out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above them all. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Anduril parried the blow, but Aragorn staggered under the force of it and he stumbled. Hissing with triumph the Lord of the Nine raised his dark mace once again, but the finishing strike did not come. For there came the thundering of hooves, and the darkness surrounding them seemed to quail and shrink, writhing as a serpent in anguish.
And a voice reached them, clear and melodious as running water, yet strong and hard as the ice upon the mountainside. Thus came Glorfindel, carried by his steed spurred on alone uncowed of all the horses upon the Pelennor. Alone rode Glorfindel with Glamdring raised aloft, that blade from ancient Gondolin glowing and gleaming amid the gloom. And to those who saw, he seemed to shine amid the smoke and the shade, unswayed and uncowed by fear. For he was Lord of the House of the Golden Flower, of the people of Turgon King of Gondolin, and he did not fear any of the Dark Lord’s servants.
“Go back! You have no power here.” said Glorfindel, and the Wraith Lord halted, for here was a Lord of the Eldar revealed in his wrath. “Was it not I that spake long ago and said your doom was not yet. I say to you now your doom is near at hand. Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!”
So fiercely did the fëa of Glorfindel burn that the Witch King seemed to pause in a sudden doubt, and in that moment he did shrivel before the Elf Lord, before raising himself once again to his full height. With a cry of anger and desperation that pierced to the very bone, the darkness surrounding the Nazgul grew in strength and soon he could not be seen by any that dared look. And then with a flash and a boom that rolled across the Pelennor as thunder that follows the lightning, the darkness vanished and all trace of that Shade was gone.